Last week, Democratic Presidential Candidate Michael Bloomberg attracted attention with an unconventional advertising blitz — via Instagram influencers. The billionaire candidate’s campaign team stated that the branded content effort is a part of a larger social content “meme strategy.” A follow-on announcement from Facebook shortly thereafter clarified that sponsored posts would not be treated in the same way as political advertising caused some excitement from transparency-hawks and meme world.
These bizarre headlines illustrate the level of uncertainty in today’s political advertising and digital campaign landscape. Before you send your campaign on a wild goose chase recruiting paleo bloggers and Gary Vee clones to endorse your candidacy, let’s discuss some practical tips for navigating this uncharted digital terrain.
With great wealth comes great flexibility. This goes without saying, but the Bloomberg campaign can afford to take some risks and get experimental. Heck, Bloomberg can afford to be flat out wasteful if he felt like it. The freedom to chuck spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks is not an advisable strategy for lean, budget-conscious political organizations. While the Twitter reaction has been entertaining, it should be stated that there is no established framework for evaluating influencer impact for political organizations like there is for e-commerce marketers.
There is no doubt that creator generated ads can be great for D2C (direct to consumer) sales. Sure there is some cringe, but when done right it is really a win-win-win for brands-marketers-consumers. There are a number of factors that have contributed to the rapid growth of the influencer marketing channel including ROI, sales psychology, channel saturation, and the prevalence of ad-blockers.
The factors pushing marketers towards influencer marketing are the same considerations that political organizations need to be aware of when building their media budget and making resource allocation decisions. Given the fluid state of the digital ecosystem particularly important to understand why your campaign chooses their paid advertising channels. Generating “buzz” is generally not a great reason to spend money.
Campaigns up and down the ballot struggle with the challenge of messaging to younger voters, which can lead to some, let’s say, creative attempts to break through the noise. Millennial and Gen Z “voters” — like the tired political cliche “suburban soccer mom voting bloc” — have become a highly sought-after segment. There is a separate, more complex conversation to be had with regard to youth/younger voter engagement (and a number of hasty generalizations that need to be put to bed) but either way candidates and campaigns are highly motivated to persuade and mobilize the non-boomer crowd.
Bloomberg’s campaign is just the most recent and high-profile attempt to leverage meme culture as a political messaging strategy. It’s easy to understand why campaigns try to “go viral” or bandwagon on popular internet trends, but there is obvious friction between meme-world and effective political communication.
Some things to understand about internet memes, their creators, and utility before your campaign gets too preoccupied with “meme-strategy.”
- Memes are popular by definition. Something becomes a meme when it has already reached a certain level of recognition. Creating your own version of an already popular meme doesn’t make it “go viral” and can easily backfire by inviting trolls to respond.
- Memes are like inside jokes. Some meme content is more accessible to a wider audience which increases salience but it’s the kind of thing that you either get it instantaneously or you don’t. Meme content that is not immediately recognizable and relevant to the viewer is immediately forgotten.
If you have a well-developed brand and have cultivated an audience then by all means, meme away. If it comes naturally and isn’t contrived, there is absolutely a time and place for the kinds of humorous, even sarcastic meme-style content in your campaign’s digital strategy. The key is not to let this become a distraction that pulls the campaign’s attention away from the big rocks.
Running an effective digital campaign can be confusing. But remember, digital strategies are components of the campaign and your digital efforts should directly contribute to the overarching campaign plan.